Fallout

Well, geez, guys, thanks for all the positive feedback on social media about my last post.  It was from the heart, all these emotions (and nostalgia) welling within me, and I’ve been waiting so long for the creative dam in my mind to burst.  All your positive feedback helps tear that dam down.  Thank you.

So I alluded to “shit” that’s been going down in my life, and it’s going to take more than one blog to get that all out.  Where to start, though?  What to write about?

Bullying.

I really hate that word because I associate it with physical violence.  As an aside, it seems, according to my counselor, I equate the word anger with physical violence as well and tend to downplay my own anger at times.

We have talked a bit about my childhood, and where and why this dissociative disorder known as depersonalisation has taken over me lately, and he’s come to the conclusion that I was bullied in grade school.  Not so much physical, but emotional and intellectual bullying, because, I guess, these things can take many forms.

I’m digressing again.

According to my Mom, I learned to read at a young age.  I never quite get the story right, but I guess my parents and grandparents tested me, and I was able to read about the age of 2, which is pretty damned special.  Of course, this started my love affair with reading, and probably explains why I can get through a good sized novel in a day or so without interruptions.

As a child, I think it was pretty obvious I was gay.  I mean, I liked playing with Star Wars but I liked playing with Barbie as well.  When it was time to act out Star Wars, I wanted to play Princess Leia, but some of the other kids thought this was weird and would pick on me for that.

More about that later.

I have a very sharp, clear memory of Kindergarten at Westbrook.  It would’ve been 1979 probably, and I seem to remember I was standing at the cubby-holes on the wall next to the small bathroom in the classroom, which was backed onto the wall shared with the main hallway.

We’d ordered books through Scholastic Books or some such company, and the books had arrived and were in our cubby-hole.  I recall being very excited and getting my books out.  Now, I seem to recall these books were usually for older kids, maybe 8 year olds, and here I was a 5 year old with these books.  Some of the other kids asked me, and the teacher, why I was allowed to have these books when they weren’t.

It wasn’t bullying, and they had the right to know why I was allowed these books when they weren’t, but that was one of the sticking points:  I. Was. Different.

I’ve always been pretty intelligent (I’d like to think) and my mind thinks things through before I act.  It’s a trait that probably some people find really annoying, especially when I point out that the actions I believe should be taken are very much more logical and would yield better outcomes than the course of action they want to take.

Incidentally, when they take the action they chose anyway, sometimes it blows up in their face, and suddenly, my idea isn’t so bad after all.  *cough* NZQA *cough*

Being a nerd was painting a target on my back.  Being a gay nerd made that target a lot larger.

We moved to another part of Mount Prospect, and I went to Lions Park Elementary School, which was only a few blocks away from our house (which my parents bought off my grandparents, and still live in to this day), so I would often walk to school.  Other kids would walk to school down Council Trail as well, including some of the kids in my class.

So we’d play Star Wars at recess on the rocket-shaped climbing structure located in the playground at Lions Park, and, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted to be Princess Leia.  I seriously don’t recall any of the girls playing with us anyway, so it wasn’t like it’d be a huge deal.

But one day, someone made the charge that only queer boys played girl characters and if I wanted to still hang around with them, I had to be someone else.

Interestingly enough, I started being R2-D2, the robot everyone loves but no one but C-3PO can understand.

It reflected how I would learn to deal with negative emotions: internalise them.  Become a robot.  You can’t get hurt if you can’t feel.

By third grade, I was absolutely miserable.  On some days, neither the boys nor the girls would play with me so I kinda wandered around at recess, lost in my own thoughts and internalising how very unhappy I was while the other kids played around me.  I remember a few times where the teacher overseeing recess would call me back because I was wandering off too far from the rest of the group.

One memory that sticks out in my mind was, on one of the occasions I did get to play with the boys, we were playing some sort of physical game.  Probably tag or something.  There was a new boy in the class (so this must’ve been autumn), and we were all playing and having fun, and one of the kids who’d pick on me decided to completely smear me.  I collided with the earth, had the wind knocked out of me, and began to cry.

Some of the other boys laughed at this, and I’m sure there were a lot of unhelpful comments thrown in there (and maybe a kick or two) for good measure, but I remember this new boy asking them why they did that to me and how mean it was.  He helped me up and made sure I was okay.  Again, another moment to tell someone, “thank you”, for their moment of kindness in my time of need.  He probably doesn’t remember that event even, but I do.

The bullying didn’t stop at the playground but started to sneak into the classroom and even on the walk home from school.  I honestly remember feeling so very isolated, even to the point towards the end of third grade where I got home, and just cried and cried and cried in the back porch while my Mom and Dad (God bless them) worked very hard to figure out what was wrong.

I vaguely remember my Mom’s face hardening when she found out how bad the bullying got and her asking me if I wanted to go to Saint Paul Lutheran School like Brian was.  Crying, I shook my head yes and felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me.

Saint Paul was so much better than Lions Park.  I honestly felt included and met a lot of very wonderful, caring people there that I am friends with on Facebook to this day.  We were very much a family of sorts, and that helped me improve my outlook on life.

Fast forward a few years.  The summer before high school, one of my friends from Saint Paul, who lived on the same block as some of the same kids who had picked on me at Lions Park, invited me to play American football with them.  I knew I had to face these kids on the bus, in the hallways, in my classes at Prospect High School, and I thought it would be best to romp up and show them I wasn’t afraid of them.

Because we were playing on the street, we decided to play touch football, so instead of tackling someone to get the ball, you merely had to plant two hands on the person with the ball.  I am probably one of the least sporty people around, but my brother Brian (God bless him) had helped me learn to catch a football and lots of other things, so I was keen to show off these new things I learned, that I wasn’t a princess, but, in fact, as tough as Princess Leia could be.

We were playing, everything seemed to be going well, I started enjoying myself, and then it happened again.  I got the ball, and one of the bullies decided to shove me.  It wasn’t an accident; the shove was very hard, very deliberate and very brutal.  I ended up literally skidding down the pavement, the pain searing through me.

I honestly wanted to cry.  I could feel the tears stinging, seeping up through my eyes.  I caught my breath, counted to three, and got up.  I wasn’t going to let the bullies see how much that hurt me even though they could see the blood starting to run down my arms from the large scrapes on my elbows.

And this memory stands out in my mind as one of the rational decisions I made to internalise my feelings instead of let them out.  I was hurt and I had a fright.  What was wrong with crying?  I was angry at being singled out and this repeating pattern of bullying.  What would’ve been the problem with asking the kid why he shoved me on purpose?  Part of me wanted to walk away.  What’s the shame in knowing when enough is enough and saying, “Screw you, guys.  I don’t need to be treated like this”?

Little did I know that these sorts of rational decisions between letting emotions out and holding them in would culminate in an emotional nuclear bomb, unleashed in my life last year.  Here is my Hiroshima.  Here comes the fallout.

I didn’t notice it until late last year.  I have always had a sort of low-functioning depression, like the buzzing in my ear of a bee working on a flower a few feet away, and I’ve learned to live with it.  Due to other issues all together, after we got back from Chicago last September, I fell into a very sharp, very deep depression.  It didn’t look like it was going to get any better, and I started researching counselors to get help.

Then I stopped feeling anything.  At all.

It’s strange when you laugh at something, whether out of instinct or finding it actually funny, but feeling absolutely no joy or happiness from that at all.  The only way I can describe depersonalisation is like you are a robot, or a Vulcan, these emotions on the outer shell not connecting to anything inside.  On the inside, you are metal, you are stone, you are hard, you are logical.

Or, a more accurate mental picture is like being a Matryoshka doll, those Russian nesting dolls, one sitting inside another, sitting inside another.  Sometimes, it feels like I’m the doll all the way in the middle, my centre hard, my world small.  The emotions are on the shell around me, but the centre feels nothing at all.

Not a very fun place to be.

One of the reasons I became this way was anxiety.  Anxiety has been triggered by me internalising my feelings.  Don’t cry when you are sad.  Hold it in like a man.  Don’t let anger get the better of you.  Let the rage simmer before you release measured words.  Watch what you say doesn’t offend the other person instead spilling how you actually feel.  All this internalising causes anxiety, which becomes overwhelming and, finally, shuts everything down emotionally.

Looking back, there were periods in my life where this happened before, but I wasn’t aware of it.  It’s a natural thing to occur in most people for a very short period of time.  If you have ever been lost in a daydream, or saw something creative you wanted to make unfold in your mind’s eye as clear as real life in front of you, this is the opposite of depersonalisation.

(Interestingly enough, people who have this daydreamer tendency are more likely to get depersonalisation.  It’s kinda the anti-daydreamer tendency.  From what I have heard, scientists are not 100% sure why.)

So now, I’m cleaning up the fallout.  It’s hard to try to reconnect with yourself, to figure out why you feel the way you do when certain things happen if that’s the default you’ve gone to and, lately, you don’t feel anything much at all.

Things are overwhelming.  I find so much overwhelming now.  Listening to a prolonged conversation.  Concentrating on reading technical things.  Reacting to someone else’s emotional conflict or happiness.  Focusing on one task at a time.  But it will get better as I get better.

Bullying wasn’t the only thing that made the depersonalisation flare up, but bullying was something that has taught me to react to my negative emotions in a different way, an unhealthy way, which has compounded into this unfeeling, unemotional creature I have become lately.

The sun is coming out again, though.  The feelings are returning.  But learning to feel again, to clean up all the fallout from the emotional nuclear bomb in my life, will take a good while, and lots of difficult decisions, indeed.

 

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